By Fred Czuba
One of the perks that come with selling glass to Craft Beverage customers in a five state region is regular air travel. Like any frequent flier I have a choice of airlines, but I gravitate toward one airline that paints their aircraft in a wide array of designs. Some of the jets are themed with local college colors and insignias. Flights bound for Hawaii often have a luau motif or bright colors on the body and tail. And of course, those flights destined for the Magic Kingdom in Southern California are adorned with familiar characters smiling and waving as the giant birds wing their way to Anaheim.
But no matter how beautiful the paint jobs are, I would be crazy to make my choice of airline based on decoration alone. Safety is paramount and of course each company has its own flavor manifested through service, on-time departure and arrival and the deals they offer their core customers.
In the Pacific Northwest we enjoy a bountiful selection of delicious craft beverages all made with the highest standards and each with their own distinct flavor. We can even transport the beverages from the breweries to continue the tasting adventure in our homes. Enter the 'Growler'. This ubiquitous container is a staple of every brewery, small and large and comes in a myriad of shapes, sizes, materials and colors. They can be found undecorated, bare as the day they were formed or dressed up in a kaleidoscope of colors and artistic designs. Although a growler is not as technologically advanced as an airliner, when you bring home a carbonated beverage from your local watering hole you must be every bit as concerned with the aspect of safety.
Not all growlers are created equally. In fact, not all containers currently being pedaled as 'growlers' are designed to do the job they are tasked to do.
Growlers are made primarily of four materials: Metal, Glass, Ceramic and PET. PET containers are very adept at holding pressure as we all know from two-liter soda bottles, but as of yet are not big in the craft beverage scene as most are not amber-colored and offer little protection for beer quality. Metal is a perfect material for growlers, especially for those consumers who lead an active outdoor lifestyle where glass may not be appropriate. But metal growlers are comparatively expensive and you can't swap one out for another everywhere as is often the case with the glass variety. The same goes for ceramic growlers. They are beautiful and functional but cost is often a barrier to purchase.
In the world of growlers, glass is still king and many readers probably have more than one lurking right now in their refrigerator, basement or kitchen. But are your growlers the vessel you are expecting them to be?
Unless you are using it to carry still (non-carbonated) cider or wine, the primary job of a growler is to hold pressure. A true growler is designed this way with the understanding that it will hold beer. Therefore it also needs to be amber in color to prevent light damage to your beverage. If you are using a clear glass growler then it was not designed to hold beer and therefore is not designed to hold pressure. It was made to contain juice or some other still beverage and if left full of beer in the back of your car on a hot summer day is no different from a ticking time bomb.
Some breweries also use what I consider to be a very attractive 32 ounce amber vessel identified in the industry as a Boston Round. It has a very apothecary look to it, but unfortunately just like the clear 'growlers' it is not designed for pressure and both breweries and their customers risk breakage, loss of product and possible injury by packaging into these containers.
But rest assured, there are true growlers out there in many shapes and sizes that perform their duty with perfection. Concerned customers who prize the golden liquid they procure from their local brewmaster should ask at the brewery if their growlers are designed for pressure. If not sure, the brewery should contact their growler supplier.
As the summer heat gives way to autumn chills the possibility of exploding growlers showering the kids and dogs in the back seat with a spray of malty liquid mixed with glass is less of a concern, but don’t let your safety guard down. The least you will lose in such an incident is your delicious beer.
Fred Czuba is a Portland writer and B.I.N.G. member who sells bottles and packaging solutions to the Craft Beverage Industry for Saxco International.